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Velon claims UCI 'bullying' forced the cancellation of its Hammer Series

Joseph Delves
9 Mar 2020

Series set up to rival established races collapses amid a bitter legal battle with the UCI

Set up as a way of gaining greater control of the races in which its teams compete, along with a greater share of the revenue generated, the Hammer series was created in 2017 by the Velon group. Comprising 11 of the 19 WorldTour teams, the outfit planned to run a series of spectator-friendly city centre races. These featured a unique three-event climb, sprint and chase format held over multiple days.

First held in Limburg in 2017, events in Stavanger, Norway and Hong Kong were added in 2018. However, political unrest saw the Hong Kong event missed last year, while Limburg was due to be skipped in 2020 due to the Olympic Games.

All Hammer races off

Now the series as a whole has been cancelled. With the relationship between the two organisations always fractious, Velon has blamed its decision to pull the series on the UCI.

'The governing body of cycling, the UCI, has persistently attacked the Hammer Series - using regulations to remove its title as a Series and prevent new race formats being developed,' said Velon in a recent statement.

'This discrimination and anti-competitive behaviour caused Velon to file its Complaint to the EU Commission in 2019 but the UCI’s attacks on the races and the Series have not stopped,' the statement further claimed.

Most recently Velon seems to have taken exception at the UCI’s refusal to sanction a women’s event at its Stavanger round. This now appears to have led the organisation to cancel not just that round but the entire series.

'Recently the UCI prevented Hammer Stavanger from adding a women’s race with full parity of prize money, broadcast and race format to the men's race while approving and moving other women’s races to overlap on the same weekend,' added the Velon spokesperson.

'These actions have made it impossible for Velon and its race organiser partners to successfully develop the Hammer Series and its races. As a result of this continued attack, the Velon Board convened and took the decision not to hold the Hammer Series in 2020.'

Lined up to host the Stavanger round, the Tour des Fjords organisation is also responsible for the Arctic Race of Norway. Previously on hiatus, that former UCI ProSeries race will now take place during the period allocated to the Hammer Series.

With no matching women’s race, instead, the well-established Salverda Omloop van de IJsseldelta (2.1) and Dwars door de Westhoek (1.1) are due to take place on the same weekend elsewhere in Europe.

Court battles

Even before the series’s cancellation was announced, the fall-out between the two organisations had seen Velon bring an anti-competition complaint against the UCI that it submitted to the European Commission last September. This alledges the UCI has been using its regulatory power in an anti-competitive way.

Unsurprisingly the ensuing bunfight comes down to who controls the racing calendar, and how the revenues generated are divided. With the UCI claiming to act for all of pro cycling, as opposed to Velon which is composed of just its 11 member teams, the court case is unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

Whether this year's suspension is the definitive end of the Hammer Series remains to be seen. Given how its novel format has struggled to gain traction within cycling’s already packed calendar, restarting after a year out will likely prove even more challenging.

By comparison, the conflict between many of the teams and the UCI regarding who has control of the calendar is likely to prove far more enduring.

The UCI replies

Added following initial publication

'The UCI takes note of the cancellation of the two Hammer races registered on the UCI International Calendar. However, the UCI strongly rejects that its actions are the actual reason having led to the cancellation of the events.

'There is no regulatory justification for the events not proceeding as they were authorised as individual events by the UCI.

'The grievances against the UCI reiterated by Velon are the subject of their complaint to the European Commission. The UCI has provided its observations on these matters – which it considers are all based on legitimate objectives and in the interests of all stakeholders – to the Commission.

'Our federation is looking forward to its determination and turning its attention to the development of the sport, in collaboration with all stakeholders.'

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